The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2007 free agency period in need of two or three wide receivers, a quarterback--backup or starting, a defensive end, a right offensive tackle, a right offensive guard, a backup linebacker, and a backup safety. The Vikings quickly added to their list of needs at receiving tight end when they released tight end Jermaine Wiggins.
In the weeks that have followed the beginning of the 2007 free agency period, Minnesota has addressed its team needs by signing a number three wide receiver Bobby Wade, blocking tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, and a special teams player with aspirations of playing middle linebacker, Vinny Ciurciu.
Despite a near complete lack of competition for any of the three agents that they have signed to date, the Vikings paid between $10-11 million in guaranteed signing bonuses to secure the rights to the trio. The bulk of that went to Shiancoe, making him the one player that must produce for cap purposes. That might seem like a safe bet to most Vikings' fans, but one has to wonder whether there were and/or are better options.
With most of their 2006 holes still vacant as the first round of free agency nears an end, the Vikings remain in position to add some players. Unfortunately, the best of the remaining players play positions that the Vikings either have filled or appear uninterested in addressing any further.
At defensive end, the Vikings still have some options in free agency, and options that might be better than their initial target, Patrick Kerney. Last week, Seattle cut defensive end Grant Wistrom, just two years after signing him to a big free-agent contract that left most wondering if they had overspent. Seattle signed Wistrom just as Minnesota appeared on the verge of inking him to a deal. Though Wistrom's numbers are not glowing, his five sacks in 2006 are five more than Vikings' starting defensive end Kenechi Udeze had last season. If the price is right, Wistrom could be a worthwhile addition.
A more enticing free agent defensive end is Cincinnati Bengal Justin Smith, who completed the 2006 season with 7.5 sacks and 87 tackles--an astounding number for a defensive end. Unfortunately, Smith probably will not be going anywhere this year as the Bengals have franchised him. That could be good news for Minnesota in next year's free agency, but, barring a trade, it does little for them this year.
The options are even more dire at receiver, though there are players available who look a bit more attractive than the players currently under contract in Minnesota. The two most notable players are Dallas Cowboy free agent Patrick Crayton (36/516/14.3/4) and Kansas City Chief free agent Samie Parker (41/561/13.7/1). Crayton is an unrestricted free agent while Parker is a restricted free agent. They don't look great, but they should be cheap and they both are young.
The fact that Todd Steussie re-signed with the Rams tells you what you need to know about the free agent market for tackles. Despite their need for a right tackle, the Vikings will either have to find someone in the draft, wait for June 1st cuts and hope to uncover someone else's luxury, or go with Marcus Johnson. The odds suggest Johnson gets another opportunity, whether he deserves it or not.
At guard, the Vikings have a position that they should be able to address through free agency. Why the team has not yet done so is anyone's guess. Among the available free agent guards are 2006 Pro-Bowler Ruben Brown, an unrestricted free agent, Ross Verba, Adam Timmerman, and Chris Villarrial, along with three former Vikings, one current Viking, and one former Viking who somebody, for some reason, wanted. Timmerman and Villarrial are getting a bit long in the tooth and might be too slow for the system that Childress' runs in Minnesota, but they would provide stability at a position that has long lacked such a guiding force.
If you thought the free agent market was grim three weeks ago, it's worse now. But that doesn't mean it's hopeless. It just means that teams like Minnesota will have to do a bit of due diligence. Last year, the Vikings added Ben Leber, Chester Taylor, and Dwight Smith in a free agent market with much more talent. This year, some talent remains that can fill one or two of the numerous holes remaining on the Vikings' roster. Whether that happens largely will be a function of the team's commitment to improving.
Up Next: Draft Talk. Many options.